Guitry was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1885, the son of the well-known actor Lucien Guitry. Sacha was first on stage at age five. He developed a charming, witty stage persona, often appearing in period-dress light comedies, for instance his 1925 pastiche Mozart, which contains a story about the fictional adventures of Wolfgang Mozart on a visit to Paris. In his 1937 film Pearls of the Crown he plays four roles, one of them being Napoleon III.
Both enormously popular and enormously productive through the 1920s, Guitry was responsible for 124 plays (some written in less than three days), more than 30 books, and a heavy schedule of performances and appearances. In 1919 he married actress Yvonne Printemps, but it was his third marriage, to actress Jacqueline Delubac, in 1935, that encouraged Guitry to document his stage performances on film. He directed 33 movies, and married twice more.
Guitry’s career took a dark turn during the Nazi occupation. The crisis did not slow the pace of his career; he was accused of accepting special favors (the return of his confiscated villa, for instance, and the rare privilege of being allowed to drive on Sunday), and he produced a commemorative tribute book to the president of the Nazi puppet state Vichy France, Marshal Philippe Pétain. Upon the liberation of France, Guitry was among the first arrested, by a self-appointed militia, and was imprisoned for two months. Officially absolved in 1947, he expressed regret at the absence of a formal trial.
True or not, those accusations clung to him. His career and reputation went into sharp decline after the war.
The New Testament / Le Nouveau Testament
Sacha Guitry | France | 1936 | 96 minutes
This is Guitry in urban mode which means sophisticated well-dressed people sitting in salons dishing dirt and playing sexual games. The only thing that comes anywhere near Guitry in this mode is Noel Coward and even that is slightly misleading; they were both primarily playwrights, yes, and they tended to write with a swizzle stick rather than a pen, yes again, but really they were chalk and cheese.
This is prime Guitry, nuff said.
The Story of a Cheat / Le roman d’un tricheur
Sacha Giutry | France | 1936 | 81 minutes
Life story of a charming scoundrel, with little dialogue other than the star/director’s witty narration. As a boy, only he survives a family tragedy when he’s deprived of supper (of poisonous mushrooms) for stealing, and thus concludes that dishonesty pays. Through years of dabbling in crime and amusing adventures, two women appear and reappear in his life, a dazzling blonde jewel thief and a stunning brunette gambler. Finally, he meets the mysterious Charbonnier who had saved his life in World War I, leading to the surprising next phase in his career…
Screening with the short film Le mot de cambronne (Sacha Guitry | France | 1937 | 36 minutes)
Let Us do a Dream / Faisons un rêve
Sacha Guitry | France | 1936 | 86 minutes
For a playwright and a verbose one at that Guitry knew how to make the camera move fluidly as in this case when it pans rather than cuts around a salon swooping on groups of two or three before moving on. Nor has he lost his knack of arresting openings, witness the Gypsy sextet who open proceedings with a short medley before the opening credits, one of them playing what appears to be a form of zither. As he often did Guitry casts his wife of the time, Jacqueline Delubac, as his leading lady, marries her off to Raimu,casts himself as the lover and lest we forget he is a man of words as well as images he proceeds to divide the film into duologues perming any two from three and even throws in a tour de force monologue for himself, For talent spotters he supplies cameos for Arletty, Michel Simon and Claude Dauphin and the finished product is everything you expect from this Renaissance man.
Pearls of the Crown / Les perles de la couronne
Sacha Guitry | France | 1937 | 118 minutes
Three narrators (French writer Jean Martin, an English royal equerry, and a papal chamberlain) tell the story of seven matched pearls, four of them now in the British Crown. Episodes whirl us from Pope Clement VII to Mary Queen of Scots, from whom the pearls are stolen while she’s occupied with the headsman. Historic events are seasoned with sly, satiric humor, and famous beauties are portrayed by stunning actresses. Then the narrators meet, and decide to try tracing the three unrecovered pearls from 1587 to the present…
Desire / Désiré
Sacha Guitry | France | 1937 | 92 minutes
Shavian social satire. Odette is an actress who’s now the mistress of a government minister. Her household of cook, maid, and chauffeur needs a valet. On the eve of going with the minister to Deauville, she engages Désiré, a robust and talkative man, even through his most recent employer, a countess, intimates improprieties. Things go well for a short time: the wealthy talk about the servants, the servants talk about their employers. Then, Désiré has explicit dreams about Odette; his outbursts wake the maid in the next room nightly. Odette has the same dream each night, awaking the minister and his jealousy. Is there any decorous way to handle these subconscious attractions?
Sacha Guitry | France | 1938 | 109 minutes
The battle of the sexes as drawing room social satire. Philippe, a middle-aged newspaper editor, has lived for six years with Paulette, a successful stage actress. He tells her friend Claudine, a realistic and enterprising reporter, that he’s thinking of proposing. Into the mix steps Carl Erickson, a charming Hollywood matinée idol in Paris briefly. He meets Paulette, sees her act (his box seat compliments of Philippe), and sets out to seduce her. The next two days bring talk, tears, separation, despair, surprises, and, perhaps, reconciliation as characters speak “exactly half the truth.” It’s a quadrille of changing partners.